SEATTLE — Losing a redshirt year as a true freshman in 2008 was supposed to be the worst thing that happened to Cody Bruns during his career as a University of Washington receiver.
Using a redshirt year last fall turned out to be much worse, considering the circumstances.
Almost four years after former UW coach Tyrone Willingham unceremoniously burned Bruns’s redshirt five games into a lost 2008 season, the former Prosser High School star is about to get his fifth and final year of eligibility this fall. What was supposed to be his senior season last fall turned out to be a redshirt year while Bruns dealt with the sudden death of his father.
“It’s kind of funny how things work out,” he said. “I guess it all comes full circle. Things are going to happen like they’re going to happen.”
Given a choice, Bruns would have undoubtedly redshirted in 2008 and had a problem-free 2011 season as a fourth-year junior. But things didn’t work out that way, and so instead of spending his redshirt year learning the college game as a first-year player, Bruns was instead grieving and often distracted while sitting out last fall.
His father, Buck, died last July, just weeks before the Huskies opened their fall camp. While Buck Bruns, a former Idaho football player, was reportedly battling a pancreatic disease, the suddenness of his death still came as a shock to the family.
“It was quick,” Cody Bruns recalled Monday. “When fall camp hit, I wasn’t there mentally. I felt like once I came back, it was hard for me to get back into everything.”
With a deep receiving corps that included seniors Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, as well as promising youngsters like Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams, who were hungry for opportunities, the Huskies could afford to delay Bruns’s senior year. Head coach Steve Sarkisian sat down with the receiver to find out where his head was at and decided that using a redshirt was the best option.
Sarkisian, who at the time called the decision “part personal, part strategic,” said this week that he could sense last August that Bruns was distracted heading into the 2011 season.
“In talking to Cody, as we went through the discussions of it, he was pretty accepting of it,” Sarkisian said Monday. “If he was to say, ‘Coach, I want to play,’ I would’ve let him play. But when you talk about it with a player, and he says, ‘let me think about it,’ and then he comes in the next day agrees with you? Then right there, that tells me: ‘It’s pretty difficult on him right now.’ So it was a pretty easy decision.”
Receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty said it was “the right thing to do” to redshirt Bruns last season.
“Mentally, his mind was elsewhere — obviously, as it would have been with any of us with what he was going through,” Dougherty said.
Bruns said Monday that it took him a long time to get focused back on football after his father’s death, adding that a practice stint as scout-team quarterback in early October helped bring him back. Coping with the loss of his father put Bruns into an early funk, as could be expected.
“I had a great relationship with him,” he said. “He played at Idaho, so he’d been through it. I could bounce ideas off of him. The most positive influence in my life. When I had a bad day, or things weren’t going right, he was always there to support me.”
Quarterback Keith Price said that Bruns might have been hurting but that he didn’t show it.
“He was still the same Cody,” Price said. “He handled it very well. Cody’s a great guy. I’ve never met anyone like him.”
And so the Huskies are happy to have Bruns back for another season.
While an ankle injury has slowed him in spring practice, Bruns looks like he’ll have more opportunities to get on the field this fall as part of a receiving corps that includes only one other senior (James Johnson) as well as a budding star in Williams.
Bruns said he’ll have a new appreciation for the game after sitting out last year and dealing with such a painful loss in his family.
“You appreciate everything more,” he said Monday. “You can’t take anything for granted. That definitely was the case (before his father’s death) last summer. So my whole outlook on everything is: I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I’m going to take it full stride.”
After the way Bruns’s career started, it didn’t look like he would have a chance to play in 2012. Now that opportunity is here, and Bruns hopes to make the most of it.
“Last one,” he said. “I thought last year was the last one, but this is definitely the last one now. I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s been a long haul. I can’t believe it’s been five years. I’m ready to go. I’m looking forward to it.”